Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Loss to Red Sox has even Mike Scioscia shaking his head


Usually stoic manager protests two calls in the ninth inning.

On BaseballReporting from Boston - This was not the usual Mike Scioscia, the manager with the famously even keel, the leader who orders his charges to "turn the page" from adversity.

Two dozen reporters crowded into his office at Fenway Park late Wednesday night, within a clubhouse still seething about two umpiring calls that the Angels thought had robbed them of victory. Scioscia asked for questions, and a radio reporter tossed him a softball.

"Where do you start with this one?" the reporter asked.

"Is that all you got?" Scioscia snapped. "Where do you want to start?"

There was only one place to start. At the end.

The plate umpire called ball four. The Angels saw strike three.

And, even after some 25 minutes to cool down, Brian Fuentes wondered aloud whether that umpire was too "timid" or "scared" by the charged Boston atmosphere to make what the Angels believed was the right call.

"It's a big pitch," Fuentes said. "A huge pitch. I'm buckling down. The hitter is buckling down. He needs to do the same."

The Angels had coughed up a 3-0 lead and a 7-5 lead, in a park where whatever can go wrong usually does. They scored one run in the top of the ninth and handed an 8-7 lead to Fuentes, their embattled closer.

Jason Bay popped up. Mike Lowell flied out. One out to go.

Fuentes pitched around David Ortiz and walked him. J.D. Drew followed with an infield single, and so did Jed Lowrie, and the Red Sox had the bases loaded.

This brought up Nick Green, the seventh position player off the Boston bench. Green, a reserve infielder, had not driven in a run in 37 days.

He swung and missed at the first pitch, and the second. He started to swing at the third pitch and held up, although Scioscia so vehemently disagreed that the generally stoic manager grabbed the sides of his head in disbelief, screaming at the umpires.

Green fouled off three pitches, then took two, and the count was full.

Green took the next pitch, for ball four, to the disgust of the Angels. Fuentes slammed his glove against the ground, as the Red Sox tied the score.

Alex Gonzalez followed with a game-winning single, and the Angels shot verbal darts at plate umpire Rick Reed from every corner of the clubhouse.

"What was the count at the end?" Scioscia said. "Three-and-four to Green?"

That ball four was either a tad low, according to Reed, or at the knees, according to the Angels.

Mike Napoli, the catcher, whirled around to ask Reed where the pitch missed. Napoli said he got no answer.

"It wasn't low," Fuentes said.
Had Scioscia seen a replay?

"Didn't need a replay," Scioscia said. "Did not need a replay."

Mike Butcher, the pitching coach, said he had seen a replay.

"If I was a reporter," Butcher said, "I'd be asking the question, 'Where was that pitch in the strike zone?' "

The Angels have enough issues with Fenway Park as it is, without their closer suggesting the umpires might be too afraid to make the right call if it went against the Red Sox.

But that is indeed what he said.

"We're out there playing our hearts out," Fuentes said. "It's obviously emotional for both teams, and to have it taken away from you like that is discouraging.

"It's frustrating, especially here and in other places where they seem a little timid to make a call. It just seems like that's the way it is here, time and time again."

This was Fuentes' third career game at Fenway Park, but he said he has heard players on the Angels and other teams say that, in this oldest and coziest ballpark in the American League, the umpires too often favor the home team on a close call.

"It's either a mistake, or they're scared," he said. "It's one of the two.

"Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe not."

This was a long and miserable evening for the Angels. They endured four hours and seven minutes, in a game that featured 38 players and 370 pitches, only to find another new and depressing way to lose in Boston.

They'll be back in three weeks, almost certainly, for the third game of the division series. If they really and truly believe the umpires are against them here, Lord help them if they do not win the first two games in Anaheim.
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times


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